Chapter 21 - "There are things known and things unknown and in between are the doors"

As the group marched south, it became apparent that the path they were following was not just some random game trail. This was a poorly-maintained, but nevertheless recently used trail that ran northwest to southeast.

“This path should lead us to the village of Tanaroa,” Urol noted. “That means we are almost at Farshore. I do not know what sort of condition Tanaroa is in, but if there are, indeed, still Olmans living on this island, that is where I would most expect to find them.”

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The path emerged from the jungle revealing a wall of stone blocks, probably fifty feet tall, stretching across the two-mile-wide isthmus entirely, but a pair of massive wooden gates in the center could allow passage.

Saris whistled, “Well, I guess we don’t have to guess if they are trying to keep something out or keep something in. We’ve seen what’s on THIS side.”

“Hold your tongue, Van Sky,” Avner said in a light tone, “With our luck, this could be the SAFE side!”

As they approached the doors, the group was amazed by the sheer size of the doors. These Olmans must have been incredible people.

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Almost as though their thoughts had been overheard, at just that moment two figures appeared on the wall on either side of the doors. They were dark skinned and bare-chested, armed with spears. One of them shouted down in a firm, though not hostile voice. However, most of the party could not understand the language. Ornrik quickly started casting a spell that would allow him to understand, though not speak, with these natives.

Urol, however, grinned slightly, “It’s an Olman dialect. I’ve never actually heard it spoken before, and it’s probably changed a great deal over the centuries, but I think I can communicate with them. They said, essentially, ‘Hark! Who goes there?’” Ornrik nodded in affirmation.

Avner stepped forward and spoke in the direction of the two guards, “I am Avner Meravanchi of Sasserine. I have just hiked hundreds of miles across this god-forsaken island of yours and I want to get to Farshore. I demand that you let me pass, posthaste.” The guards clearly did not understand, but his companions did and they looked at Avner in horror. When it became apparent to Avner that the locals did not understand him, he motioned from Urol up to the guards, “Translate.”

Urol looked around at his other companions with a questioning look. They all just shrugged, so he cleared his throat and did his best to translate. The others understood “Avner Meravanchi” and “Sasserine” but not much else. Ornrik fought hard not to laugh at Urol’s attempt to find an Olman equivalent of “posthaste.”

Whether Urol’s skill with the Olman language was lacking or the natives just didn’t know what to make of Avner, nobody could say, but one of the two told them to wait in a manner that did not require translating, while the other disappeared.

The doors slowly began to open and they were ushered quickly inside. The doors were closed surprisingly quick once they were on the other side and a huge log was pushed by several men into place to bar the huge portal.

The village consisted of four group huts set at four equidistant points around a central pyramid that might have been a temple or town square or both. From one of the huts emerged an older man, though clearly of healthy, athletic build. His hair was long and white, and his face was weathered, but his body could have been that of a soldier or athlete in his thirties. He was fastening an animal fur cape as though it was proper attire to meet guests. As he approached, the party could see that his face was tattooed in a startling but elegant fashion, subtly evoking the idea of a great cat.

He greeted them in a heavily accented Common, “I am Matlalihuitl, leader of the Tiger Clan of Tanaroa. I believe my hunter was confused. He said you were going TO Farshore. Surely he meant you come FROM Farshore.”

Avner shook his head, “No, he got it right. We’ve spent that past, what? Several weeks? A month? Whatever, trudging around this island from the northern shore. We’ve been attacked by giant turkeys, a huge two-legged crocodile, gargoyles, a bunch of invisible ape demons and I don’t remember what all. I’m tired, I’m hungry, I want to take a bath, and I want get to Farshore.”

“Understandably,” Matlalihuitl conceded. He turned and barked some orders to several nearby men who ran off quickly. “Tell me, you encountered the Thunder Lizards. How many of you were there when you started your journey?”

“Well, let’s see,” Avner thought about it, “There was us, and I had two servants. Oh, and there was that pointy-eared kid.”

“Skald,” Viselys declared.

Snapping his finger and pointing at Viselys, Avner said, “That’s right! Yeah,” Then he turned back to Matlalihuitl, “but it wasn’t the lizards that got them. It was the demons. No, wait, one of my guys got mashed by the gargoyles. The other two were demon food. No, wait, was it the other way around?”

“So how did you all escape these horrors?” Matlalihuitl asked, somewhat amazed.

Avner shrugged, “We killed ‘em. I have to say the ‘gater was good eating. So were the giant turkeys.” He pointed at Urol, “I’m glad you listened to me on that one.” Everyone in the party rolled their eyes at this, with the exception of Urol who just stared back with a gaping mouth.

Avner continue, “Oh, and the giant crabs. Mmm. Yeah, slaughtered the gargoyles. Those ape demons were a bit of a challenge, but they’re dead now. Oh, and they had this giant animated statue thing. Took care of that, too.”

“You must be truly powerful warriors,” Matlalihuitl said with some awe, though he was clearly dubious.

By this time the other Olmans had arrived with refreshments which consisted of tropical fruits, a flat corn bread product the Olmans called ‘tortillas,’ and a hot, bitter drink.

As Avner tasted the drink, he grimaced and said, “What is this?”

“We call it ‘xocolatl,’” Matlalihuitl replied, “It is always shared with visitors and drunk whenever the tribes assemble. It is also used in our religious ceremonies, especially those related to fertility. I don’t really know why; I’m not a priest. Do you like it?”

“No,” Avner said, a bit too hastily. Then he took another drink, “And yet I can’t stop drinking it.”

Matlalihuitl chuckled and nodded, “It is said that xocolatl is an acquired taste. I could not say, having drunk it all of my life. Now, tell me more about your adventures. You may stay here tonight and rest as guests of the Tiger Clan, if you wish. Tomorrow, we will give you directions to Mora where I am sure that our brothers in the Turtle Clan will help you to get to Temute.”

“Temute?” Viselys asked.

“That’s the name of the island that Farshore is on – about ten miles off the coast, maybe a little less,” Urol said, taking another sip of his xocolatl. Looking into his glass he said, “You know, this might be really good with some sugar…”

* * * * *

The next morning, the party set off for Mora. The trail was reasonably well worn and a pleasant change from the savage jungles north of the wall. Their reception at Mora was more friendly than it was at the wall. Clearly, on this side of the wall, the natives felt a bit more comfortable. The first person they met led them to the shore where fishing boats were berthed. It seems that the natives often ferried people across to Farshore to trade goods.

The island was distant, but visible from the shore. What quickly drew everyone’s attention though was a plume of smoke rising up from the side of the island where Farshore would be.

“We’ve got to get over there, fast. Something’s wrong,” Viselys said in a worried voice.

“Are you sure you don’t want to rest here for the night, first?” Diamondback asked sarcastically.

Avner looked at the canoes and kayaks available to them, “Hey, how are we going to get Thunderstrike over there?”

Viselys turned his attention from Diamondback, “Leave the horse here. We’ll come back in the Wyvern or the Fire Troll for her.”

The Olman fishermen ferried them across, willing to give every effort to cross the distance as quickly as possible, but unwilling to get involved in whatever catastrophe was unfolding across the water.

Continue to Book 5 - Tides of Dread...

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